Category Archives: Cats

Check Your State’s Humane Law Ranking

Photo courtesy of the UK Human Rights Blog


Today the Humane Society released a report detailing all 50 states’ animal laws in 2011, as they relate to “issues ranging from animal fighting to farm animals to wildlife to companion animals”. When you click the link below it will bring you to an interactive map. Hover over any state to see a brief synopsis and whether or not it increased or decreased in its rank in 2011.

I am very disappointed in my own state’s ranking, and would have thought it to be higher than it actually is. And something I already knew from working in the field that I do: it is one of the only states with no felony penalties for first-time cruelty violations. This fact is sad and discouraging, given the horrendous nature of some of the animal crimes I’ve seen. But laws can change.

Take a look and see how your state ranks:

An Iconic Species at Risk, Part II

Tiger photo via camera trap (courtesty of National Geographic)

On December 2 I posted about tiger poaching and Wildlife Conservation Society’s efforts to combat this alarming trade. National Geographic Magazine’s December issue has an amazing article about tigers and their fragile status on this planet.

You can read the article here:

Some of the highlights of the article:

  • The tiger population is estimated at around 4,000 animals, scattered throughout Asia’s 13 “tiger countries”, although many experts believe that their numbers are actually far lower.
  • Some reserves, established to protect tigers, have seen a complete loss of all of their tigers; one 300 mile preserve in India lost every single one of its tigers to professional gangs.
  • Relocation efforts have proven somewhat unsuccessful, as tigers typically range over a hundred miles, and nearly a third of India’s tigers live outside tiger reserves.
  • Conservation efforts have largely failed the species, with millions of donated dollars and “vociferously expressed concern for tigers” achieving only “the demise of half the already imperiled population” since the 1980’s.
  • There have been successful attempts to bring back the population: take Huai Kha Khaeng, a 1,073-square-mile wildlife sanctuary (wrote about this place in my December 2nd article) where 2 decades ago there were only 20 tigers and now there are “an estimated 60 in the sanctuary alone and roughly 100 in the rest of the Western Forest Complex, which has six times the area”; the success is due to improved forest health and rise in prey, dedicated monitoring by well-equipped and well-trained patrols, and extreme pride and desire to protect a national treasure.
  •  Tigers are resilient by nature: they “are not finicky about diet or habitat, or dependent on a particular ecosystem; they have been found in Bhutan above 13,000 feet, an altitude overlapping the domain of the snow leopard, and in the saltwater mangrove swamps of Bangladesh where they have learned to swim and supplement their diets with marine life; they reproduce well if given the chance; an average female can rear some six to eight cubs over her 10-12 year lifespan”.

I hope that you will read the entire article – it’s worth your time and the photos are beautiful.

Courtesy of National Geographic

Another hopeful conservation effort is being started by INTERPOL, the international and intergovernmental criminal investigative organization, which has an environmental crimes division. Called Project Predator, it “unites the efforts of police, customs and wildlife officials in the 13 countries in Asia where wild tigers can still be found” and involves “the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the World Bank, the Smithsonian Institution and INTERPOL”.

There is an article on the project here:, although it is somewhat vague about how the project will work.

Efforts to save tigers are underway. Are we too late? That remains to be seen. As field biologist George B. Schaller puts it, “The great cats represent the ultimate test of our willingness to share this planet with other species; we must act now to offer them a bright and secure future, if for no other reason than they are among the most wonderful expressions of life on Earth”.


An Iconic Species at Risk, Part I

(Photo courtesy of

Did you know that there are fewer than 3500 tigers remaining in the world? In 1900 there were 100,000 tigers across Asia. Many factors have contributed to their decimation, like increasing human/animal conflict and habitat loss, but most recently poaching is the main reason for their frighteningly scarce numbers. Can you imagine a world without them? Or without some of the other amazing creatures that share their home in Asia, like elephants? I would suggest you try to wrap your mind around that possibility, because it is a very real one. But there are efforts underway to stop the loss of tigers and other species, some that involve forensic science at its best.

A fantastic video about tiger poaching can be watched here: Hunt for the Tiger Slayers

If you don’t want to watch it (although I strongly suggest you do; it’s relatively short and very informative) I’ve summarized it below.

In 2010, researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) found themselves face to face with tiger poachers while they were setting up camera traps in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand. The poachers fled, but left behind them horrible destruction in the form of a tigress and her cubs, poisoned.   According to WCS, tigers are “poached for their skin, bone, teeth, and claws, and the slaughter of even one or two breeding females could have a terrible impact on the population; the poaching gangs can be so ruthless that they often kill elephants for their tusks, and then poison and leave behind the carcass for tigers to feed on”. Two very lucrative birds with one stone.

In this case, a composite sketch was developed by the Thai police. Anti-poaching efforts were increased in the form of 40 new rangers trained to combat the illegal wildlife trade. That summer there were several armed conflicts between the rangers and the poachers, eventually leading to the capture of the same poachers believed responsible for the deaths of the tigress and her cubs. Evidence in the form of photos found on the poachers’ confiscated cell phones shows them proudly displaying the tigers they had killed.

One of the cell phone images that convicted the poachers (photo courtesy of

The poachers argued that the tigers in the photos were from unprotected areas, and thus could not be used to prosecute them. But when one of their cell phone pictures was compared to a photo of a tiger captured by WCS’s camera traps that had later been found dead, a match was confirmed.

“Tiger stripes are like fingerprints, and researchers used them to confirm a positive ID; charged with the deaths of four tigers, the two poachers face a lengthy time away, but unfortunately the demand remains,” (WCS, 2011).

While doing research for this post I also came across a great article on this issue; you can read it here:

In the article the writer lists several disheartening facts put forth by Mark Carwardine – a BBC Presenter, Zoologist, Conservationist, Wildlife Photographer and Writer:

  • Two tiger subspecies, the Bali and Javan tiger, are already extinct with a third subspecies – the Caspian tiger – yet to be confirmed. It has been claimed that the South China tiger may become extinct within the next decade.
  • The tiger population is dwindling because of hunting by poachers, being killed for clashing with human dwellers and forest workers and by having their habitats destroyed. 93% of the tiger’s habitat has disappeared in the last century.
  • Four tigers are killed every week and China is responsible for the most tiger poaching activity. Their trust in the medicinal effects of tiger teeth, skin and bones is based on ancient beliefs which are not backed up by scientific evidence. The Chinese also cash in on the billions of blood money yielded by the tiger trade to sell tiger body parts as food, clothes or souvenirs.
  • Tiger conservation is extremely complex because of the intricacies of the tiger trade and the lack of effective support from politicians and police forces. (Monica Sarkar, 2011)

If these facts don’t upset you, if the video above doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, if the thought of such iconic creatures as tigers disappearing forever doesn’t motivate you to some sort of action, then you are lucky. These issues keep me up at night. They keep me from blissful ignorance and a good night’s sleep. They make my head spin with thoughts on how to stop the destruction. I suggest you watch the video again (I’m even posting the link here so that you don’t have to scroll up: Hunt for the Tiger Slayers ) and let it sink in.

The tiger whose stripes matched those of the tiger in the poachers' cell phone pics (courtesy of

This is what I’m passionate about and what I hope to inspire others to be interested in as well. We can stop this, if we act now.

More on tigers and poaching to come…


Guest post: Understanding the Emotional Symptoms of Animal Abuse

This is a guest post by Allison Gamble!

People who suffer from physical and psychological abuse exhibit behavioral and emotional symptoms even long after the abuse has stopped, and the same is true for animals. Whether the abuse is emotional or physical, it will leave indelible marks on the animal’s psyche. However, by employing a sort of animal forensic psychology, you can learn to better understand these behaviors, including the types of abuse known to cause each, which is essential if you wish to successfully rehabilitate an animal that has suffered from abuse. Only by understanding the cause of the behavior and what actions you should avoid when handling the animal will you be able to mitigate the animal’s reactions and help it overcome the fear and aggression that maybe a characteristic part of its current behavior.

Territorial Aggression as a Reaction to Abuse

Territorial aggression is primarily thought of as a canine behavior; although it can affect any animal that feels that its territory is threatened. Generally, territorial aggression is a reaction to the animal’s territory being severely limited, often by chaining the animal.

According to the National Humane Education Society , animals that are chained typically suffer from neglect in several forms, including inadequate shelter, nutrition and hydration. As such, their basic survival needs are not met on a regular basis. Additionally, the animal, generally a dog, does not receive the love and attention that it craves as a social animal. As they become farther removed from the human companionship that would make them safe to be around, they tend to become aggressive. Torment at the hands of passing people and the aggression of other animals is also common, exasperating this condition. Their reaction is generally preordained. They behave aggressively, defending what little territory they have to call their own.

The Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association conducted a study that revealed chained dogs were 2.8 times more likely to bite than their non-chained counterparts. This due to the fact they are simply trying to protect their small territory from others, and they have not had the chance to form the necessary human bonds that would naturally eliminate this behavior.

It is important to note that not all animals that are chained are the victims of abuse. Some may be chained for short periods of time with fresh food and water or even be chained only when their owner is also working outside. These animals typically will not be aggressive or exhibit other symptoms of abuse, such as depression or timidity.

Aggression Towards the Owner

While it may not perhaps be en vogue to refer to the caretaker of an animal as an owner, most individuals who abuse their animals view themselves as just that. The animal is theirs to do with as they please. For some, this will include physical violence (beating or otherwise harming the animal when it disobeys), emotional abuse (withholding the affection the animal craves) and physical neglect (providing inadequate food, water, shelter, and protection from fleas and other parasites). The dog learns to fear the owner because the owner does not provide what it needs and because the owner often treats the animal in ways that cause it to cower or feel physical pain. Thus, as a the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) points out, animals that cower in fear or react with aggression when approached by their owner generally are victims of abuse.


Oftentimes, animal abuse takes the form of neglect, and the animal becomes fearful of people because she or he has not been properly socialized. Generally, emotionally abused animals will behave in passive and timid ways, although it is not possible to say that all dogs that are submissive have been abused. For some, this is just their personality. For others, it is a deliberate choice.  A paper by Dr. Kertsi Seksel  details some of the patterns in submissive and timid behavior abused animals will exhibit, including learned helplessness (failing to help itself due to fear of the outcome), behavioral extremes and involuntary urination due to stress.


Just like people, animals can become depressed as well. However, unlike people, depression in animals generally does not last for long periods of time. As discussed by  WebMD , often it is related to changes in the animal’s environment or the loss of a primary caregiver. However, in some cases, depression may be a sign of abuse.

Generally, depression in animals is characterized by changes in behavior; listlessness; and a lack of enthusiasm for events, such as walks and meals, which typically made their days exciting. It would be a mistake to view an animal that appears depressed as abused, as many factors may contribute to depression in animals. However, a depressed animal should be carefully monitored, especially if the behavior does not change, as this might be a sign of depression.

A Word of Caution

No single behavioral sign is symptomatic of abuse. Just as people act out for a variety of reasons, so do animals. An aggressive dog may fear people due to a learned response in its past, but the current owner is not the abuser, nor does it mean the dog is kept chained all of the time. Timid animals learn to be submissive for a number of reasons, and oftentimes it can be a sign that the animal feels safe and protected with its current caretaker. They would act out if they did not feel this way. Depression can easily be seen as a sign of abuse, but often it speaks to a personal heartache the animal has recently faced.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that understanding an animal’s past circumstances can be the key to having a successful relationship with it in the present. An animal that was kept chained for much of its life prior to rescue should not be put back on a chain. Instead, you should work carefully to teach the animal that he does not need to guard his territory. If an animal was repeatedly struck with a folded newspaper, learn from his cues and avoid carrying a folded newspaper around him or her. With careful work and the guidance of professionals, including animal behaviorists and veterinarians, it is possible to mitigate the emotional symptoms of animal abuse.

The Real Heroes

Scallion, one of 25 animals rescued by PSPCA officers (photo by PSPCA)

April is Prevention of Cruelty to Animals month. In honor of this I’m posting a link to the TV show Inside Edition’s recent coverage of the Pennsylvania SPCA’s Humane Law Enforcement officers in action, and their discovery of a hoarder who kept animals trapped in abandoned cars in horrific conditions. It was only due to the diligence and hard work of these officers that many of the animals survived. Watch the video here:

PSPCA humane law enforcement officers save 25 animals

You can also read the article on PSPCA’s website: 

Please note, these officers are paid solely by donations – they receive NO state or city funding! Without their work all of the animals in this case, and the thousands of cases like it in the course of a year, would never make it. Click here to donate.

Every month should be Prevention of Cruelty to Animals month. For humane law enforcement officers across the country, it is. My experiences with them over the last year, the lessons they’ve taught me, the knowledge they’ve shared with me, are why I consider them an inspiration. The nightmarish things they encounter day in and day out would force many people to turn away. Yet they get up every day to continue the fight. I encourage all of you to help in any way you can. Foster. Adopt. Donate. Volunteer. And remember the ones who speak for those who can’t. We Are Their Voice.

Thanks guys, for being heroes.

ASPCA’s Groundbreaking DNA News – March, 2011

This is unprecedented… two humane law enforcement cases have resulted in felony convictions based on DNA evidence. I’m so excited I can barely write this, so here is the link to the article on the ASPCA site:

DNA Evidence Revolutionizes Cruelty Cases in NYC

I was priveleged to hear Dr. Robert Reisman, the ASPCA medical coordinator quoted in the article, speak at last year’s veterinary forensics conference . He has been doing some phenomenal research with graduate students in New York that will certainly add to this emerging science. And although there is already an established canine DNA database (Canine CODIS), these two cases make it even more apparent that DNA can be used to solve not only human crimes, but crimes against animals too.

How great is this? Just one more step towards making the laws established to protect animals even stronger.
Keep up the good work!

photo courtesy of


The Jungle House

That’s how it was described to me by the officer before we arrived to pick up the six cats supposedly inside. He was right – when we pulled up out front it was easy to identify which one he was referring to. Vines had completely taken over the outside of the home. Plant-life shoved its way in windows and simply covered the ones it couldn’t penetrate. It was hard to see the walkway to the porch. It was as if Mother Nature was reclaiming her own.

The homeowner was in the hospital with no known discharge date. According to his friend, who came to let us inside, the owner was an alcoholic who had tried to detox on his own the week before and ended up collapsing, most-likely from the shock of the withdrawl. The homeowner knew his condition was serious, but he was also worried about the cats in the house that were left to fend for themselves. So he had agreed to let the SPCA come and rescue them.

The outside of the jungle house was NOTHING compared to what we saw on the inside. I noticed an animal skull mounted to the outside of the front door. Before the owner’s friend opened the door for us, he tried to express just how bad it was in the house.

“Listen, it’s horrible,” he said. “There are fleas everywhere. And the cats ain’t used to people, so they’ll most likely run and hide. Least that’s what they did when I came to feed ‘em.”

I didn’t have a clue how bad some people in my city have to live until I saw the inside of that house. When I stepped inside I was slapped across the face by the unmistakable odor of urine and feces. It was as if time had stopped. Cobwebs and layers of dust and animal hair covered everything. It was dark and dreary; the windows were covered by the vines outside, heavy curtains inside, and a film of dirt several layers thick. Clothes that obviously hadn’t been worn in years lay haphazardly across furniture and on the floor. Boxes of magazines and assorted collectibles were stacked in the middle of the front two rooms. The only piece of furniture that was not piled with boxes was a small couch in the living room, which is most-likely where the homeowner slept. Piles of feces were EVERYWHERE. Roaches scurried out of our way. The homeowner’s friend picked up a bag of cat food from a kitchen chair and shook it. I shuddered to think that it was probably infested with insects. I saw one cat on a window ledge, but when he caught a glimpse of us he flew like a bat-out-of-hell past our legs and up the stairs. Another cat scurried out of the kitchen in the same direction. We put the four cat boxes we had brought on a semi-clean area of the living-room floor and headed up the stairs.

It was worse up there. A mattress on the floor of one of the rooms was used as a makeshift litter box. There was no air conditioning, and the heat made the stench even more pervasive. It was impossible to take a step without coming into contact with animal feces. After chasing the cats with flashlights for about five wasted minutes, Jim said to me, “We need to go back to the shelter and get the traps. These cats are completely feral and we’ll never catch them otherwise.”

We trudged downstairs and out into the sunshine and fresh air. Jim called the homeowner in his hospital room to let him know that we were going to set traps and take the cats out. The homeowner was sad but understood. He was aware and embarrassed at the condition of his house, which I took to be a good sign of a dawning recognition of his living situation. He knew he couldn’t care for the cats and he gave permission for his friend to sign for them.

I looked down at the legs of my pants and realized I was COVERED in fleas. After hosing each other down with flea spray Jim and I headed back to the SPCA for traps. I thought about how horrible life for that homeowner must be. I had seen signs of a life before things had gotten bad – yellowed pictures and clippings attached to the refrigerator door. Images of happier times, perhaps? But I thought about how he now battles with addiction every day. No family. Almost no friends, except for the kind soul that we had met. How scary it must have been, pushing a cart of laundry down the street and collapsing. ALONE. The cats were his only life-line. He cared, at least in his mind, more for them than for himself. What would life be like for him after the hospital? He couldn’t possibly be allowed to return to that house. Could he?

We returned from the SPCA with two large traps and cans of cat food for bait. We set them in the living room and kitchen and hoped they would work. Unfortunately, we had run out of flea spray and had to resort to picking the second round off of ourselves by hand. Thanking the owner’s friend for his time, patience, and caring, we said we’d be back the following day to check the traps and bring more. Driving away from the jungle house I realized that the SPCA is not just teaching me about animal laws and behavior, but also about human nature and humility. This isn’t just the stuff of movies. It’s reality. Not everyone lives a comfortable life. People AND animals struggle with the basics EVERY MINUTE of EVERY DAY. They don’t struggle with which new car or gadget to buy. They struggle to find food, water, shelter. They struggle to get out of bed. They struggle to find someone, anyone, who will not scream at them, hit them, or otherwise disregard them. They HOPE to find someone who will listen. Someone to care.

Monster, puppies in the park, and the evidence-cat

Monster - a monster???

* Names have been changed

“So I think I’ll just take a drive by, and then park and put my vest on,” Jim* said to me.
Okay, I thought. Wait, what VEST? The BULLET-PROOF vest? Where’s MY vest??

This was the start of the day. I was riding along with Jim (not his real name) for the second time. We had gotten a call about someone selling pit bull puppies on the street at a community fair. Pit bulls. Of course. Apparently it’s pretty common to see random people with a cardboard box of puppies on the street, holding one up in the air shouting, “Puppies for sale!” I asked how much the people usually charged. “Two-hundred,” was the response. DOLLARS? On the street? I wondered how many of them would be used for fighting.

Jim’s idea was to scan the area first before getting out of the car. We did, and saw nothing. So out of the car (without vests, as it turns out) we went, walking through a street filled with hippies, Rastafarians, and artists of all kinds selling their wares. But no puppies. I was a little relieved.

“Whoever it was must have been scared off. I know the girl who called it in; she’s a pretty outspoken activist. Probably called us right in front of him,” Jim said. I liked her instantly. “Can’t just sell puppies on the street. You need a permit for that.” Yeah, right. We both knew these people couldn’t care less about a permit.

On to the next call. And the next. There were several interesting stops during the day. A call had come in the night before regarding a dog killing cats in a yard. The owner then threw the dead cats over the neighbor’s fence. We went to investigate.

Jim and I made our way through a tiny alley littered with garbage and overgrown shrubs, counting row homes as we went to make sure we found the right yard.

“Are you the SPCA?” A small voice asked. I looked to my right and saw a girl in a bathing suit standing in the middle of a saggy inflatable pool, which took up most of the concrete yard it was stuffed into. Several other kids were sprawled in the cloudy water, watching us.

“Yes, are you the one who called?” Jim asked the girl. She replied that she was and proceeded to tell us about the boys who often came to the abandoned house across the alley with Monster, as the red-nosed pit bull was called, to fight him and watch as he killed cats the boys trapped in the fenced-in yard with him. We looked at the yard and Jim took pictures. The dilapidated structure seemed to be falling in on itself, but someone had put an old stuffed chair in the yard, and haphazardly hung a torn, blue plastic tarp along one side of the fence to protect it from curious eyes. We couldn’t see any blood or signs of a fight, but a black trashbag in the alley caught Jim’s attention. The cat had obviously been dead for some time, but in the sweltering summer heat it wouldn’t have taken long to reach the state of decay it was in. “That’s the cat they threw in the neighbor’s yard after Monster killed it,” The girl said. I carried it back to the car as evidence.

Before we left Jim thanked the young girl and gave her his business card. “I want you to call me if you see those kids back here, especially if there’s a dog fight going on. Just say a fight is in progress and someone will come right out. Okay? You did the right thing calling this time. If we go to court would you be willing to testify against this kid?”

She smiled shyly and said, “No…. I’m too scared.” I wanted to hug her. I would be too.

Speaking with some of the neighbors we learned that this boy wasn’t even out of middle school. Next to the abandoned house was the home his family supposedly lived in. There were several notices on the porch from the school district. No one was home. “If he’s fighting dogs at his age, this kid is too bad-ass to bother with school,” Jim said. I looked around at the impoverished neighborhood sadly and wondered how many were just like him.

That cat rode with us the rest of the day, its stench a constant reminder of its presence in the back of the SUV. One of the last calls to be investigated for the day involved a starving dog in a cage in someone’s bathtub. The neighborhood was considerably more upscale than the ones we had visited earlier, meaning, well, meaning nothing. Animal cruelty and neglect spans all economic classes. The landlord answered our knock at the door and a beautiful Rottweiler peeked timidly around his legs. She doesn’t look like she’s starving, and that must be one big bathtub, I thought.

“You guys must be here about the people upstairs,” the landlord said. Oh.
He pointed up the steps. “They ain’t been here in awhile, I know that. I know they got a dog up there. Little thing – like a mini-greyhound or something. They never take the thing out. I’ll take you guys up. They’re supposed to be moving out in August.”

Jim and the landlord called the homeowner and left a message. Up the dark steps… I heard no barking and feared the worst. In the bathtub was a small heavy-duty plastic dog carrier. Jim shone his flashlight through the slats. From behind him I could see fur.

“She’s okay. I don’t think she’s starving, but greyhounds are skinny to begin with. Looks like someone’s been by to give food and water. But she can’t stay in here,” he said to the landlord. He walked towards the door. My heart sank. We can’t take her now?? I thought. “I’ll leave a notice on the door,” Jim said, “but if she doesn’t call back I’ll have to get a warrant.”

Get a warrant, get a warrant! I wanted to scream. I wanted to shout at the landlord: How can you look at your beautiful dog and know that this poor girl is up here all alone stuck in this craphole?

I left to the sounds of the little dogs cries. I wanted to cry with it. Back to the SUV and the evidence-cat. “Nothing I get from that house can be used in court now,” Jim told me. “We went in without a warrant, which is okay because we had the landlord’s permission, but now no evidence will hold up in court if this has to go that far.” Great. I felt the beginning of a dark hole in my chest; I hadn’t been that sad in quite some time and knew it most likely wouldn’t get any better.